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Forever hybrid: The future of music

by Mike White

January 12, 2021

How did you see in the New Year? Was it relieving your youth at The Hacienda’s 24-hour New Year’s Eve livestream party? Did you venture to Edinburgh’s virtual Hogmanay or did you Dance As One with a million others at Defected Records’ final party of 2020?

The living room became the dancefloor this year as millions across the globe welcomed in 2021 from the comfort of their own four walls as life under lockdown persisted. Yet irrespective of these continued restrictions, after a year of experimentation with virtual events, it’s now clear that even when the pandemic finally comes to an end, the future of music and indeed the future of all events, will be forever hybrid.

The music industry has been forced to adapt more than most over the decades, moving from live to vinyl, from vinyl to CD, then on to digital, which effectively made music free, and lit the fuse for the surge in live events and the whole experience economy.

From red button to revenue-generating hybrid models

Back in 2002, Madonna and MSN put together possibly the first live-streamed concert, watched by nine million people tuning in to a feed from Brixton Academy, and the industry continues to adapt, moving gradually to a hybrid model as it fights to maintain relevance and revenues.

Over time, the BBC’s extensive coverage of Glastonbury, complete with all the “red button” options, has allowed the iconic, 50 year-old festival to become a sofa-based (but still much-anticipated) event for the millions of us unable (or unwilling) to get a ticket for the real thing.

In 2020, the forced move to hybrid has provided us with an opportunity for ongoing experimentation. Liam Gallagher’s live performance, “Down by the River Thames,” was more like a London Tourism video than a magnetic live performance, but there have also been many more innovative efforts this year.

We’ve seen Travis Scott perform in Fortnite; a Twitch music festival; and the Global Citizen #TogetherAtHome virtual live show with contributions from artists including Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Chris Martin – and a socially distanced Rolling Stones performance which revealed to the world that Charlie Watts doesn’t even have a drum kit at home.

Gorillaz, innovative pioneers of blended entertainment, have always mixed IRL performance with bold digital formats, so it was no surprise that once again they lead from the front in 2020, selling tickets to their triumphant Song Machine Live from Kong virtual event in December following their album release in October, which featured virtual collaborations with talent including Robert Smith, Beck, St Vincent and Slowthai.

We are learning as we go, working out different approaches for the hybrid model, and coming to terms with the fact that, not only is this pandemic lasting longer than we thought, but it’s also unlikely to be the last one we experience.

SOS “save the summer season”

Just this month, the industry-body UK Music issued an SOS to government to save the 2021 summer festival season, outlining the need for financial support for the sector. Given the scale of the losses in 2021, even when the world is in a better place, what promoter, agent and management wouldn’t want to increase their live revenue and reach a global audience via a hybrid set up? The key to doing it well is to respect the audience, and to transform a virtual performance into a bona fide experience by creating an interactive and immersive event, introducing entertainment and gamification into the mix.

Take fans on a journey

There are so many ways to experiment with this medium, but one of the biggest and most important challenges is to make the fan a real, inclusive part of it. Like Dua Lipa’s after-show party for her Studio 2054 event, why not take fans with you on this journey, invite them into an exclusive chat room, or set up live messaging so that an experience can be shared globally among fans?

Because a mere broadcast of a live event is not enough, and the future lies in true, immersive, creative experiences. We will continue to adapt and experiment, to form and re-form the ideal hybrid model, in a place where the real and the virtual worlds truly collide: all events must put authenticity first, bringing us closer to an artist and putting on a real experience – whether we’re in the virtual sphere or right at the heart of the mosh pit.


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#hybird festivals